Recommendations from campaign counsel Catharine Baker
As illustrated in my previous message, California's current system of casting and
counting votes has gaps that can be exploited by the unscrupulous. Avoidable errors
can determine the outcome of close elections. If we want to ensure that only legitimate
votes are counted, then we must do the following, without delay:
We cannot walk away from this election unwilling to fix the voting problems we identified
just because the fixes won't change the outcome of this particular race. Unless
we make these and possibly other reforms, and start making them now, we cannot have
full confidence in our election outcomes.
- Secure the right to challenge voter signatures.
If we can't challenge missing, mismatched, or invalid signatures on vote-by-mail
(VBM) and provisional ballots during the canvass, we have no assurance of ballot
integrity. We must secure the right to challenge signatures in every jurisdiction
in the state. We must pursue this right on many fronts, including through the current
court action pending in Contra Costa County, legislation, and public pressure on
the secretary of state and local registrars and other elected officials.
- Require voter ID at the polls. It is time
for Californians to require voters at the polls to show identification in order
to vote. Several states already implement this requirement in ways that protect
the integrity of the votes without disenfranchising voters, and we can accomplish
the same here.
- Use poll rosters more effectively to prevent fraud.
A voter who votes at the polls must sign a roster, yet, except in rare circumstances,
that signature is not compared to the registration card. This leaves an opportunity
for fraud by impersonation at the polls. As long as there is no voter ID requirement,
registrars should compare roster signatures to the registration card for verification.
We also should require those delivering another voter's VBM ballot to sign a roster
at the polls to provide another means of accountability and ballot integrity.
- Reform permanent absentee voter status.
Permanent absentee voting is increasing, and so are the opportunities for fraud
and mistake with it. For example, if a permanent VBM voter moves and does not notify
the registrar, a ballot is still sent to the residence, and anyone who obtains it
can cast it (albeit under penalty of law). At a minimum, permanent absentee voters
should need to re-register periodically, and other reforms deserve consideration.
- Determine whether members of unions involved in
the election should process ballots. Most employees at the registrars' offices
are members of public-employee unions that endorse candidates, dedicate powerful
resources to those candidates, and urge their members to do everything they can
to get those candidates elected. For those same union members to handle and process
ballots raises a conflict of interest. Imagine the outrage that would result if
membership in the Tea Party Patriots or Republican Women Federated were required
for a person to count ballots or verify signatures. We should decide whether members
of public-employee unions involved in the election should be allowed to process
ballots, and if so, with what measures in place to address any conflict of interest.
- Secure uniform and clear guidelines for ballot
processing and counting. The processing of ballots varies widely among the
counties. As a result, whether and how a ballot might be counted can depend on which
county processed it. We must demand of our secretary of state that clear, standard
guidelines be provided in order to secure our constitutional right to equal protection.
- Update the voter registration records. The
voter registration rolls are inexcusably inaccurate. Volunteers making GOTV calls
often reached households where the person registered to vote had moved or, worse,
had never resided at the address in the first place. This was particularly a problem
in those communities hardest hit by the economy and foreclosures. The secretary
of state and registrars must update the rolls. Registrars also should use on-line
and other resources to obtain registration signatures from voters so we can put
an end to counting VBM and provisional ballots for which there is no registration
signature on file to compare the ballot signatures.
- Modernize on-line information systems for voters.
Voters must be able to determine on-line if their VBM or provisional ballot was
counted or rejected. In some counties, a voter can confirm on-line whether the ballot
was received, but cannot determine if it was actually counted and not rejected during
the verification process. Voters should have access to this information through
a means other than a recount or election contest.
Catharine Baker is an attorney with Morrison & Foerster LLP's San Francisco office,
where she practices general commercial litigation. She took a leave of absence to
volunteer full-time on David Harmer's congressional campaign as pro bono counsel
and manager of special projects. Catharine received her B.A. in political science
from the University of Chicago and her J.D. from U.C. Berkeley, after which she
clerked for a Reagan judicial appointee in the Central District of California. Prior
to attending law school, Catharine was the Senior Legislative Aide to Congressman
Sonny Bono in Washington, DC. She is a former Abraham Lincoln Fellow with the Claremont
Institute for Statesmanship and Public Policy. Catharine is a native Californian
who lives in Dublin with her husband and 7-year-old twins.